Sons of liberty: Identity politics distract from the individual
There are two common categories of identity: those we choose for ourselves and those into which we are born. The former enables proactive, dynamic and deliberate self representation, and it is fashioned by freedom. The latter indicates our heritage and original impressions. In American colleges and increasingly throughout society, we emphasize the importance of our innate identities at the expense of those that we choose. Identifying ourselves, our race, our ethnicity, our religion, our sexual orientation and our gender should not trump our passions, interests, ideas and daily choices. When they do we often form exclusionary tribal groups, view our politics as a zero-sum game and logical persuasion takes a backseat to the whims of emotion.
Innate identities offer us meaning and comfort. We must, however, fight against indiscriminately absorbing all preconceived beliefs associated with said identities. Such beliefs only form the lens through which we first view the world. As we mature, we become more aware and introspective, thus broadening our perspectives. The purpose of education is exploration and eventual discovery of our own unique ideas.
The identities we choose for ourselves, our majors, our friends, our career choices, the shows we watch and the books we read—to name a few—greatly determine self-conception. These identities are not constant or rigid; we arrive at them by rational coherent logic and they evolve as we grow.
The groups we form around our identities are either tribalist or communal; the line between them thin. Both categories require a foundational shared identity and both foster commonality. However, tribalism’s common identity tends to be of birth rather than choice, whereas community can be fostered around any identity. Tribalism thrives on an “us vs. them” dynamic, while community advances friendly competition and relationships. Communities generally do not dictate thoughts, interests and time spent outside the group. Tribalism pushes groupthink throughout other aspects of its members’ lives and closes the window to outside influence.
Identity politics, as defined today, refers to the origin of ideology dependent on our innate identities. Its alternative could be called “logical politics”—ideology chosen due to reflection, reason and life experiences. Major overlap exists between the two; innate identities surely influence life experiences. Problems arise when we cannot dissociate political disagreement from identity conflict.
A significant portion of the blame for the rancorous and divisive 2016 election has been attributed to a growing obsession with identity. Pundits declare that Secretary Clinton singled out individual groups, which amounted to a perceived neglect of the white working class. When candidates mention identity, inevitably some groups will be left out.
Identity politics reduce elections from comparisons of vision and general policy directions to a comparison of which candidate can best benefit specific identity groups. This is a spoils system and the beginnings of a zero-sum game. In such chaos voters pay little attention to dissonant platforms, incoherent policies and impossible promises so long as their identity group is promised benefits.
Identity politics are the starting point of a society emphasizing some innate identities over others. Such emphasis has led to humanity’s greatest atrocities. Overemphasis of racial identity in America has spawned neo-Nazis, the KKK, Japanese incarceration and segregation. Overemphasis of religion has led to terrorism, discrimination and forced conversions. The excessive emphasis on innate identities spills over from animosity to distortions of perceived reality and facts.
The action of individuals forming innate identity “tribes” eventually leads to a “post-truth society.” In this action, the logic, reasoning and science of individuals outside of their own identity groups matter little. When we repeatedly chastise whole groups, they become less responsive. Emotional bonds surround tribalism and identity politics which, when established, are difficult to undermine or weaken.
Individuals and their choices must matter more to our individuality than the things we cannot control. College students gain from pondering who they want to become, rather than who they are. Candidates and elections must focus on appealing to the maximum number of individuals rather than attracting disparate groups. We must regain the power of facts, reason and debate, over that of emotion.
Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of the day when Americans would be judged by the “content of their character,” not the color of their skin. This dream is obstructed with a heightened adherence to innate identities.
The greatest men and women of history were those who broke from the ideology typical of their born identities and charted an individual course. Abraham, Jesus and Muhammed; Martin Luther and Galileo; American revolutionaries and Abraham Lincoln; Jane Addams and Dorothy Day; Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. changed the course of history because they confronted and defied the roles expected of them and their identities. The sum of our individualities is greater than our various identities.
Sons of liberty: Fearing patriotism: land of the free; home of the afraid?
Are Bowdoin students really “at home in all lands and all ages,” as the Offer of the College asserts?
Tomorrow night Quinby and MacMillan Houses host the perennial favorite Cold War party. In prior weeks, concerns were raised relating to the party’s theme. Some feared the “patriotic nature” of the party might “trigger” students. After contentious house meetings, a panel discussion and guidance from Inter-House Council, the theme was left intact. Yet many involved were left wondering: are Bowdoin students proud of, or even comfortable in, their own land?
Patriotism is defined: “love and loyal or zealous support of one’s country” In America, that means a commitment to stand by, have pride in and promote our Constitution’s purposes: to establish justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare and the blessings of liberty for all. Patriotism does not require backing the current administration, supporting our entire history or chest thumping chauvinism. Patriotism is not partisan; it is an adherence to your country, an outward sign that one cares about the current and future welfare of our nation and its people. We all strive for and believe in idealistic forms of America; in working for and holding such goals we are all patriots. So why are some afraid to demonstrate their pride and reluctant to be around others displaying their own?
Bowdoin students’ angst toward public displays of patriotism is representative of growing ambivalence across progressive America. Richard Rorty, the self-proclaimed liberal philosopher, asserts, “there is a problem with this [new] left: it is unpatriotic. In the name of ‘the politics of difference,’ it refuses to rejoice in the country it inhabits. It repudiates the idea of a national identity, and the emotion of national pride.”
National pride connects citizens to one another and to larger causes outside their own individual and material pursuits. The larger cause of America is the pursuit of equal rights, freedom and opportunity for all, which all Bowdoin students seek.
Some claim they cannot rejoice in our national mission due to numerous atrocities in the past or shortcomings in the present. Repudiating patriotism does nothing to heal these scars. Rather than a sweeping defense of our entire history, patriotism is the realization that this country is striving for greatness. While acknowledging the problems of the past, we must also celebrate the progress made and the sacrifices it required. The imperfections of the American memory should never limit the potential of the American destiny.
Many take issue with American patriotism on grounds that it is arrogant and connotes superiority over other nations. Pride in one’s country allows appreciation for the pride others have in their own. Patriotism is like parenting; only when we have children of our own will we appreciate the love our parents had for us. Furthermore, the best parents comprehend their child’s strengths and weaknesses and, with unceasing love, nurture the former to overcome the latter. Without devotion no child reaches their potential. America is a young country, still maturing; with our nurturing and devotion she will grow.
Some students see the patriotism wielded by the current administration as an effort to promote a homogenous and exclusionary vision of America. Patriotism is the greatest unifier of our country with the singular capacity to include all Americans. Communities and identities generally gain relevance by separating “us” from “them.” There are no identities, passions or hobbies all Americans share. This country was not founded with a shared ethnicity, religion or ruler. We are bound together by our values and beliefs: liberty, equality, justice. Patriotism, unlike other identities, unites rather than divides Americans. Labeling patriotism as exclusionary is fundamentally inaccurate and weakens the country’s ability to unify and cooperate for our shared values and beliefs.
Our generation is a fortunate one; little personal sacrifice has yet been required from us. When future challenges arise one must wonder whether current Americans will muster the conviction to sacrifice. The original Sons of Liberty, our veterans, abolitionists, suffragettes and many alumni found strength in patriotism and would be dumbfounded, if not offended, by the perceived “threat” of patriotism on campus today.
We are living in the midst of the American experiment. While fallible, the successes of representative self-government, separation of powers and respect for the individual have changed the course of history for better at home and abroad. Warren Buffett asserts, “The luckiest person ever born in the history of the world is the baby being born in America today.” We possess an immense—and unique—American privilege. It is such a privilege that people risk their lives crossing oceans and deserts for a chance at it. Let us look to the past and be grateful; let us look to the future and be hopeful. Let us realize the successes we enjoy exist due to the passion, perseverance, love and sacrifice of past Americans. The potential of the experiment is known, our commitment to it is not.
At the party tomorrow and for the rest of your life be the first to wave your flag. Reclaim the pride your country deserves and appreciate the tremendous opportunity you have to craft the future of this mighty nation. The torch has been passed and it is our responsibility to preserve for posterity the freedoms we hold dear. President Obama believes, “a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals and those who died in their defense.” The time is ours. May we be worthy.
The Bowdoin student's guide to living in Trump's America
A day of elation and empowerment for some, a day of anguish and fear for others. January 20 proved our political divide has grown beyond tax rates and states’ rights to conceptions of the American identity. Division has thrived on the impersonal nature of identity politics, sensationalist cable news, bullying, negativity and blatant lies. A vicious spiral is born when we avoid sincere engagement, instead retreating into the comforts of ideological tribalism.
As students we share more of the blame than we care to admit. Too often we assume President Trump’s supporters are racist, stupid or uninformed, yet few Bowdoin students regularly interact with President Trump’s supporters. Nearly half of the registered voters in our country voted for President Trump. Can you name 10 people who did the same? Without contact and connection to opposing thoughts, we cannot comprehend others’ motivations. In this isolating climate, Bowdoin students tend to revert to four common coping strategies: removal, denial, posting and protesting—each inadequate and fraught with problems.
Removal: The worst possible option is cutting off engagement from political news and discourse. Confronting a lost election is difficult and reality can be painful, but civic participation is the lifeblood of democracy. Removal of oneself from the discourse is disastrous. Americans facing the challenges of yesteryear did not surrender when they were down but dug in more deeply. As Bowdoin students, we are blessed with the education and experiences to critically examine multiple perspectives and arguments. Our education obliges us to recognize the political, moral and philosophical problems of our day and to fight for what we believe. To fall into the feeble role of an uninformed citizen because watching the news makes you sad is a disservice to yourself, your country and your educators.
Denial: This is exemplified best by the #notmypresident hashtag and it is your next worst option. Denying your connection to President Trump does not diminish your affiliation to him or his administration. Factually incorrect, the handle attempts to remove your personal responsibility for his policies and any duty you have to challenge them. Sixty-five U.S. representatives went further, boycotting the inauguration. Skipping an inauguration disrespects one of our country’s greatest feats: the peaceful transition of power. Anyone denying the president’s legitimacy sets a precedent of disregard for future disputed elections.
Posting: Sharing a New York Times, Buzzfeed or Huffington Post article on Facebook may boost morale and offer the sensation of resistance. In reality social media sites usually stand as echo chambers of agreement, validation and witty soundbites. Opposing comments frequently face enmity. When online debates do materialize, civility is limited, bullying encouraged and resentment the common result.
Protesting: This option beats the previous three. The recent women’s marches were framed positively, their goals well known (though a plan of implementation was not) and they were widely recognized. The marches, as noted by David Brooks, were only a first step; mobilization is a sign of intent, but concrete action must follow. More importantly, they failed to engage the other side, epitomized by the exclusion of a leading pro-life feminist group. The marches began with the participants in agreement and ended with few minds changed.
During the campaign our president demonstrated invincibility to scandal, beating impossible odds and all opposition. President Trump quickly learned that if he maintained the support of his base, the actions of the opposition mattered little. The Republican establishment, never-Trumpers and the person who Obama called “the most qualified candidate in history,” lost not because their messages failed to garner support, but because they failed to change minds. Our student activism appears to follow the same misstep. Removing, denying, posting and protesting on a politically homogenous campus plot no course for compromise, do not facilitate mutual understanding and further entrench each side. Signs, chants, sharing articles, and grouping together only raises the volume of a message already well heard at Bowdoin.
The only feasible path to cope with Trump is one previously introduced by the president of our college, Clayton Rose. Rose has repeatedly pushed us to be “intellectually fearless” and to pursue “difficult conversations.” Now more than ever we must turn away from the comforts of insular thinking and seek challenging dialogue. The tools of engagement are simple: a clear mind and calm spirit. Listen and attempt to understand not only different positions, but also the life circumstances that may have led to them being held. Build bridges of trust, then explain your opinions and reasoning. Empathy and compassion convince far more quickly than the loudest megaphone or the biggest march.
Trump won the election because his campaign transcended politics and connected with voters on an emotional level. To influence the leader one must influence his followers. Dealing with Donald Trump means engaging with Trump supporters personally. Show them you hear them, care about them and seek to understand. Create relationships with those who disagree and the common ground you find will surprise. Bowdoin teaches us that diversity makes us stronger. This is undeniably true. Yet, we must go beyond putting ourselves in the shoes of those who do not look like us and try on the shoes of those who do not think like us. Only then will we become the inclusive community we yearn to be. As Americans, far more unites than divides us.
Editor's Note, February 7, 2017, 2 p.m.: An earlier version of this article inaccurately stated that "nearly half our country voted for President Trump." The artilce has been updated to reflect that nearly half of the country's registered voters cast their ballot for Trump.